EVEN before we met, everyone was telling me that plain Tom Brown was a very nice guy, the sort of pleasant young fellow that, even at a family funeral, you would be pleased to meet.

The sophisticated young lady who suggested him as a subject for this column said: "He's gorgeous; please let me know if you need someone to sharpen your pencils."

Well, now I've met him and - although I am not best qualified to judge the "gorgeous" bit - he is an extremely pleasant young man. And I hope he will stay that way because his life is about to explode.

For, instead of doing some labouring work on a building site or helping out at funerals in the Ingleton area, Tom is about to become a soap star.

In a month's time, he will never be able to walk down the street again without being recognised. When he goes for a game of pool in the Wheatsheaf, he will most likely have an adoring audience likely to put him off his shot.

And, instead of a few lady admirers in North Craven like my informant (whose name, of course, I cannot reveal), he will have tens of thousands, perhaps even millions, of female fans.

So today, meet the two very different people, simple Tom Brown of Ingleton and Tom Lister, actor, who is on the verge of a life-changing breakthrough career: as a regular character in Emmerdale, the Yorkshire Television soap which pretends to be about life in a Yorkshire Dales village.

Now there was a time when I was actually paid to watch soaps on television. That, thankfully, came to an end 18 years ago and I have not watched one since. So I know little about Emmerdale, which was about a farm when I last saw it.

But I was more interested in how the Ingleton Tom Brown, whose family have been builders and funeral directors in the village for almost 100 years, was preparing himself for TV fame.

He looked somewhat puzzled and shot a glance at his blonde YTV-appointed PR minder as if asking for advice: "I haven't really thought about it. Quite frankly, fame has never crossed my mind.

"This is my job. This is my career. If fame is part of the job, so be it. Much more important to me is that I have now got a regular part in a top series working with super people. I'm 25 and the job is going well, so what more can I ask for?"

This, I believe, was the first time that the actor Tom Lister has ever faced an in-depth interview. And he patently didn't realise that, already, he was being wrapped up in that cotton wool (some might say barbed wire) of protection that many celebrities soon accept as their natural right. I had, for instance, wanted to do the interview over a quiet pint in the Wheatsheaf, still a proper Dales pub, and when I telephoned him before Christmas, he seemed to jump at the idea. But he added: "I think I should talk to my agent first."

A week later, a got a call from the YTV Press Office (now run by Granada Media) asking me what was it all about. It then took the best part of a month to set up the meeting, which had to be at the YTV studio and the PR lady had to sit in on it. She had also asked to see previous Dales Folk articles.

I have had less trouble in the past meeting Prime Ministers, so I arrived on a foul day after a foul 90-minute drive in a pretty foul mood. This would, indeed, have been a pretty foul interview, but for that fact that, like all my previous information, Tom Brown/Lister really is a very nice guy.

He has not stumbled into acting by accident, rather by going through the mill. He got the bug at Settle High School when he starred in two sixth form plays, then toured for two years with a drama group that took plays to schools around the country.

After that he did a three year course at a Birmingham drama college and then managed to get some good, but short-lived roles, on TV in shows like The Bill and Heartbeat - "I was usually a character in a story-line that lasted just a single episode so although they were quite good parts, they didn't last long."

He also appeared in Settle Festival of Theatre's Midsummer's Night Dream, which took place in a marquee in the town in October.

When "resting" between parts - the thespian's term for being out of acting work - he laboured on one of his dad's building sites and helped out at the occasional funeral.

"We are a family used to hard work," he says, as a simple matter of fact rather than a boast. "Mum and Dad always supported me when I was training to be an actor so it was only fair that I paid them back." He has a twin brother who is studying to be an architect.

After his first appearances on television, watched avidly by virtually the entire population of Ingleton, his friends would take the mickey out of him but soon got over the novelty: "They're my mates, aren't they?, and I take the mickey out of them back. I wouldn't expect anything else. That's something that I don't think will ever change."

I hope you're right, Tom Brown. Showbiz fame does funny things to some people, and far from all of it is good. You will need to keep your wits about you but you are lucky: you have a great family behind you, a protective community to use as a bolt-hole and, in the Dales at least, ordinary folk whose heads are not easily turned by fame.

One day, when you've got used to the bright lights and kept your feet firmly on the ground, we'll have that pint in the Wheatsheaf. Give me a call.